UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of Part2 Pictures

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

Former Liberian warlord turns to Christianity in this intimate portrait

By Drew Halfnight

The Redemption of General Butt Naked
Directed by Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss
Part2 Pictures

It’s not every day you get intimate with a mass murderer.

In The Redemption of General Butt Naked, a documentary with a funny name but a very serious premise, the viewer gets up close and personal with Joshua Milton Blahyi, a former warlord who was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 people during the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1996).

Blahyi and his Butt Naked Brigade were known for advancing into battle unclothed, raping and murdering in a drug-fuelled trance. “I just used to enjoy putting people in pain,” Blahyi says at one point in the film, gazing into the abyss of his conscience. He says he fought naked because he believed it gave him “spiritual power,” and that, while finishing off his tearful victims, he imagined he was sacrificing them to the gods.

The film catches up with Blahyi in 2008, after he converted to Christianity and launched a campaign of atonement. It reveals him as a complex figure, a blundering fool who elicits affection and horror from the people whose lives he touches. His wife describes him simply as a kindhearted person who is “fun to be with.”

Throughout the film, the war is vividly evoked in original news footage showing boys lurching drunkenly in the muddy streets of Monrovia, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at their enemies. In the present day, we see the hulking figure of General Butt Naked preaching in a refugee camp church, dancing with his former soldiers and testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It is hard to gauge the depth of Blahyi’s contrition as he begs the relatives of his victims for forgiveness or tries to rehabilitate the child soldiers he once terrorized. We look to the victims for cues. One young man, whose family Blahyi had killed, seems relieved by the general’s apology. Another girl, who weeps from an eye maimed and blinded by the butt of the former warlord’s gun, says she is moved by his efforts. Others are overwhelmed by his visits, which only stir up old terrors.

Only once do the filmmakers catch their subject in a moment of crystal-clear repentance. “Lord,” he sobs after retreating alone into a hotel bathroom, “when is this all going to be over?”

Drew Halfnight is a writer in Guelph, Ont.

Author's photo
Drew Halfnight is a father, journalist and high school teacher in Toronto.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image